Some reassuring news from a pediatrician.
In the current climate of unknowns, sending kids back to the classrooms wearing masks is not only necessary for health reasons, it’s the best way we can make sure that they can have as normal a school year as possible. That is the most important thing to focus on right now when it comes to a child’s development – particularly younger children in preschool or who may be entering kindergarten and grade school for the first time.
Many parents have been expressing concerns over the social repercussions of a return mask mandate. Will masks hinder my child’s ability to participate in class? Will my child have difficulty talking to and making friends? What about language development?
These are legitimate concerns and worth discussing with your pediatrician based on your individual child, especially if they have special needs. For those parents, it may also be worth a conversation with your child’s school (for instance, to assure teachers will be wearing clear masks, providing necessary mask breaks etc…).
But generally speaking, parents need not be too concerned about the impact of masks on long-term learning or social skills. Kids are naturally social and will find a way to adapt to most situations. Still, there are a few ways you can help them at home:
Help them to read eyes. Younger children naturally take visual cues based on a person’s mouth and how that translates to overall emotion and mood. With everyone in masks, you can help your child shift from reading mouths to reading eyes – in fact, this is something they will begin to do naturally without any intervention. You can practice this at home while wearing your mask and playing a game – can you guess if I am smiling? Frowning? Laughing based on my eyes alone?
Calibrate their hearing. It is sometimes hard to hear what others are saying underneath their masks, especially if they are naturally soft spoken. It’s important for you to understand what volume of voice your children can hear clearly. You can model the teacher’s speaking voice to determine if normal level is understandable, or whether a few notches louder may be optimal. Then you can mention this concern to your school and the child’s teacher.
Schedule lots of outdoor playdates. Take as many opportunities as you can to arrange get-togethers with other children and relatives outside so they can benefit from as much full facial visualization as possible when they are not in school.
Don’t worry. There are different opinions about masks in school. I have found that some parents tend to be more concerned than the kids themselves. It’s important to remember that young children are extremely resilient and adaptable. Anything they miss they will eventually catch up to later on – and this is especially true the younger the child is. Over the past two years, I have yet to see a pediatric patient who has experienced any significant delays due to mask-wearing.
If you have specific concerns related to a young child and mask wearing, you should initiate a discussion with your pediatrician. White Plains Hospital sees pediatric patients at Medical & Wellness in Armonk and at Scarsdale Medical Group in Harrison.